Humility: The 5th Sense of Character-based Leadership

I wrote a post published on Smartblog on Leadership about the
4 senses of character-based leadership and shared it with both the Lead Change and the Linked2Leadership communities. Over on the Linked2Leadership group page on LinkedIn, Bjorn Nilsen commented:

“...the key sense that needs to be added to the list is 'sense of one's self'. This is the keystone to character-based leadership - an awareness of one's self, one's strengths, one's weaknesses, one's 'gut-level' instincts and reactions to any situation. A lack of self awareness makes it impossible to lead from 'who you are' and places you in a position of having to lead from a position of power…”

So I got to thinking about a sense of self. My initial reaction, probably because of when I was raised, who my parents were, and because of my own tendency to be pretty arrogant, was that a sense of self is not a good thing. Maybe not you, but many of us tend to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Everything that happens is evaluated based on the impact to us. If we find a $20 bill laying around, our first thought is how lucky we are to find it. We might even decide that this is some divine pay-back for something we lost years ago. It might be God’s idea of helping us out, or it could be a great excuse to purchase a lottery ticket. All of my initial thoughts when finding a $20 bill laying around would go along those lines.

Someone lost that $20. There’s no chance that it just materialized or was created without an owner. Twenty dollar bills don’t own themselves. They can’t purchase their freedom. They can’t ever be free. A $20 bill always belongs to someone. My initial thoughts are almost never for the person who lost it.

In fact, my initial thoughts are almost never for the other person in just about any situation. When I fell in love with Vicky, my wife, my initial thoughts were of her. And after 30 years of marriage, at times they still are. (It’s honest, not necessarily great, but honest.)

Every day, I have to train myself to think of others. Sometimes it seems as if I’m either thinking of myself or I’m thinking of myself because I didn’t think of others. It’s a vicious circle where I’m still thinking of myself all the time, but never constructively. I’m either selfishly thinking of myself or I’m selfishly criticizing myself.

I’d call humility a healthy sense of one’s self. Humility allows us to objectively understand ourselves in a way that is simply most effective in dealing with others. Humility enables us to make the most of our own strengths without offending or creating some type of co-dependent relationship. Humility is an accurate understanding of oneself. Can we know our strengths and weaknesses in a way in which others would agree? Can we understand ourselves and still respect others?

As Bjorn mentioned above humility is critical to effective character-based leadership. It is an awareness of one’s strengths, weaknesses, instincts and reactions. I would add that the humility we need, the fifth sense for a character-based leader, is also a sense of awareness of our values and passions, but that’s for another post.

So consider now the 5 senses of character-based leaders: Mission, Urgency, Responsibility, Service, and Oneself. Definitely a foundation of character-based leadership is humility: a healthy, balanced sense of oneself.  Check out the Smartblog on Leadership post for more on the first 4 senses and let me know what you think.  What are your thoughts on the need for an accurate sense of oneself?  Care to share below?  Thanks in advance.  I'm grateful for your attention on the topic.


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